I have always wanted to do a long term camping trip. It got me thinking though, how long can you even camp in one spot? I figured there must be some kind of guideline, especially for National Parks, National Forests, and other public lands. So I did some research on the subject and put it all together here.
How long can you camp in one spot? 14 days is the answer in most situations when it comes to federal lands. It does depend of course on who manages the land and whether the camping area is considered developed or not.
There are many different types of land that you can camp on. Most of which will probably be operated under either the National Park System, National Forest System, Bureau of Land Management, or State Park System. I will be mainly talking about federally owned land or Public land. Land held by the federal government is for the most part open to everyone for (responsible) use.
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How long can you camp in a National Park?
The National Park Service manages 419 individual units covering more than 85 million acres in all 50 states. Of those 419 individual units, there are 61 of them that are designated as “National Parks”. Some are more popular than others, but one thing is for sure that they host some awesome camping opportunities. If you have heard of camping then you have definitely heard of National Parks. They are the embodiment of unique lands to explore and admire.
Even though all National Parks are managed by the same organization, they all individually have their own rules. That includes how long you can camp in one spot. It even includes where you can camp as some National Parks have very strict regulations on where you can camp. Since there are so many National Parks it is best to view the website associated with the park and look at their particular camping regulations or just give them a call.
For example, In the very popular Grand Canyon National Park the “Mather” campground has a limit of only 7 nights. Another example: Yosemite National Park has a 30-day camping limit per the calendar year and during the peak summer months the park limits camping even further. From May 1 to September 15, the camping limit in Yosemite is only 14 nights. If you are planning to stay in Yosemite Valley or Wawona then only seven nights can be camped there.
So as you can see, the camping limit in National Parks can vary by park, campground, and just by area within the park so do your research beforehand if you are considering an extended camping trip in a National Park. Luckily, their website has very detailed information on all of the camping rules and regulations. You will also be able to see the camping limits when making reservations for some campgrounds. The limits are built into the online reservation system so you will often see your itinerary rejected if you elect to reserve a campsite for longer than the limits.
How long can you camp on BLM Land?
The Bureau of Land Management makes things extremely easy. Their rules for dispersed camping is that you can camp in one spot “not to exceed 14 days within a 28 consecutive day period.” So this means you may camp for 14 days in one spot, but you must move “outside of a 25-mile radius of the previous location until the 29th day since the initial occupation.” That is for dispersed camping. Dispersed camping is any camping that is not done in a designated campground. There is a whole new set of rules for dispersed camping, but that’s for another time. If you are going to be doing it on BLM land then you are limited to 14 days in one spot.
For developed campgrounds on BLM land, the rules are slightly different. Each campground may have its own individual rules so you should look up the information on the specific campground or give them a call and ask. Their website states that the limits “are generally about two weeks within a month period.”. 14 days is two weeks so most of the time this is going to be your camping limit when dealing with the BLM.
The BLM imposes these limits in order to “prevent damage to sensitive resources caused by continual use of any particular areas.” Basically, humans can cause damage to the natural environment when they stay for prolonged periods of time. Developed campgrounds are designated areas so that “damage” is concentrated in one developed area. The BLM manages one in every 10 acres of land in the United States. That is a lot of responsibility and one that the organization takes seriously.
Even still, BLM land usually has the least regulations as all of their rules fit on one page. Most of the time with the BLM, if there isn’t a “no camping sign” then you are good to go. They also offer campsites at very low prices compared to National Parks and National Forests. Most of their developed campgrounds operate on a First Come, First Serve basis. If you want to know more about First Come campsites then read this post that I wrote.
How long can you camp in a National Forest?
The U.S. Forest Service operates very similarly to the way that the BLM does. Most of the time there is a 14-day stay limit within a 30 day period. The Forest Service manages approximately 193 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands in the public trust. There are many different National Forest districts just as there are different National Parks. The same rules typically apply for developed campgrounds within National Forests.
The “how long can you camp in one spot” question is a difficult one to answer since the rules will vary not only organization to organization but from campground to campground. In most cases it is best to assume 14 nights in one spot is the limit. National Forest’s boast websites of their own that post the rules and regulations applicable to the district you are interested in.
For example, the heavily visited Los Angeles National Forest does have a 14 day stay at one site. However, the entire forest also has a 30 days stay per year limit. Do they keep track of when you were camping and for how long in any given year? I think not. Like a lot of the operations in the National Forests (and the other publicly managed land for that matter), there is an honor system and we must be responsible for following these rules set forth since they are usually there for a good reason.
How long can you camp in a state park?
The answer depends of course as there are 50 states with 50 different state governments. In California for example, their developed campgrounds can have different stay limits, but once the limit has been reached, “the campground must be vacated, and no one in the party may return to camp in the same park for 48 hours.”
Can you sleep in your car at a campsite?
You may generally sleep in your car at a campsite that you have rightfully paid for, given that you are not causing a disturbance to others. I have written about this in more detail in this post. If you think about it, it is not much different than sleeping in an RV, which is also a vehicle.
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